Growth of jobs in Md. slows

Unemployment rate inches up to 3.5% in April, below U.S. average


Employment growth slowed in Maryland last month, creeping up by just 700 jobs as unemployment also inched upward, the government said yesterday.

Unemployment was 3.5 percent in April, compared with 3.4 percent the previous month, according to preliminary Labor Department numbers adjusted for seasonal variations. The share of Marylanders who are out of work and searching for employment remained well below the national rate of 4.7 percent.

Over the past 12 months, employers added 30,700 jobs in Maryland, also a slowing pace. But local recruiting has been increasing, experts said - which suggests the problem isn't that businesses don't want to hire, but that they're having trouble finding workers. A job doesn't count until it's taken.

"We can't add jobs as fast as the rest of the nation because we do not have people to fill the jobs," said Richard P. Clinch, director of economic research at the University of Baltimore's Jacob France Institute.

U.S. employment increased at a 1.5 percent pace over the past 12 months. In Maryland, the job base grew by 1.2 percent.

"I don't want to say [the numbers] are disappointing, because they're not - job growth is still relatively strong in Maryland," said John Hopkins, associate director for applied economics at RESI, Towson University's research and consulting arm. "I think we've just kind of plateaued a bit. ... The job market might be a little bit underperforming as a result of the unavailability of labor."

Virginia, which has an even lower unemployment rate, is adding jobs at a faster clip - but that's possibly because the size of its labor force is keeping up better than Maryland's, Hopkins said. Virginia is adding residents more quickly than Maryland is, and the metro area around Washington keeps expanding south and west.

Clinch warned against reading too much into Maryland's monthly job increase because the Labor Department's attempt to take into account regular seasonal variations in hiring might have skewed the picture. Without those adjustments, employers added 22,000 jobs last month. Though it's still not as good as April last year, it's better than April 2000, at the height of the boom.

But either way the jobs are counted, there's a worker shortage, Clinch said. He thinks it's critical to develop better mass transit in the Baltimore metro area to link lower-skill residents in the city with jobs they would quality for - which are often in the suburbs. Difficulties reaching suburban job centers help drive up the city's unemployment rate. And joblessness is even worse in the city than it appears because many out-of-work residents have given up actively searching and are not counted in the official tally.

"Washington has an integrated mass transit plan that works, combining two states and an independent city, whereas Baltimore is in one state but has an utterly dysfunctional transit system," Clinch said.

Traffic will only get worse because the national military base reshuffling - known as BRAC - is expected to bring tens of thousands of jobs to the Baltimore area, he said.

Baltimore region unemployment was 3.8 percent in March, the most recent month for which figures are available. It ranged from a high of 6 percent in the city to a low of 2.5 percent in Howard County.

Businesses clearly want to hire. Recruiting is up in the metro area, said Jesse Harriott, vice president of research for Monster Worldwide Inc., which produces national and local indexes of recruiting activity.

"Across the board, Baltimore's doing well," he said. "Baltimore is seeing more recruiting activity than it's seen in the past 11 months that we've been tracking."

Statewide, the sectors that have performed best in the past 12 months include education and health services, up by 9,100 jobs; government, up 8,400 jobs; and construction, up 4,700 jobs. Manufacturing continued to contract, declining by 3,200 jobs.

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